Hasya Salem didn’t have much time left. At 14 years old, the only thing this teenager had ever seen was the inside of a Bulgarian hospital. She was an orphan, and a very sick one at that.
Hasya weighed only 14 pounds. And so her weak little body lay in a crib, the same protective bed given to babies a fraction of her age. In fact, the young teen had spent all of her 14 years enclosed and unmoved in that very piece of baby furniture.
Hasya had cerebral palsy and she was blind. Moreover, the care she received in Bulgaria was extremely poor and neglectful. And so she wouldn’t survive much longer without someone hearing of her struggle.
But halfway around the world in Wellington, Colorado, two people did indeed hear Hasya’s story. Adeye and Anthony Salem happened to read about the young girl’s loveless upbringing. Adeye was an adoption advocate herself, who often shared the stories of children like Hasya who were in desperate need of a family’s love and support. And speaking to Colorado State University’s Jeff Dodge, she said that she and her husband were immediately moved by the young girl’s story.
“Seeing the pictures, we just started crying,” she said. “We knew it would be so hard, but after talking about it one night, there was not one reason good enough to say no. Everything we came up with sounded like an excuse.”
However, this wasn’t the first time the Salems had adopted a child with special needs, and nor would it be the last. Although at some point in their marriage, Adeye had actually thought any more than two children would be a handful: “He wanted four kids, and I only wanted two – I thought he was crazy,” Adeye told Dodge.
And early on, the couple did indeed have two sons, Connor and Kellan. Adeye felt complete and finished with the experience of pregnancy. “But something changed in my heart,” is how she described her decision to have a third child to Dodge. And so she and Anthony welcomed their third son, Cade, shortly thereafter.
Once again, the family felt complete – but that wouldn’t last for long. Because one day Adeye happened to pick up a magazine which featured a story about the large population of orphaned girls in China. The country valued its boys, it seemed, but many daughters ended up unwanted in orphanages. And upon reading of their plight Adeye felt, as she had put it before, a change in her heart.
Adeye and Anthony were moved to visit a Chinese orphanage, transforming their lives forever. “Nothing could prepare us for what we saw that day, just so many children with, a lot of them very minor, very correctible needs, in an orphanage. It absolutely broke our hearts. It did. It just changed us,” Adeye told Fox 31 Denver. The couple adopted four-year-old Hannah-Claire from China after their visit, and Adeye became a voice in the international adoption community.
Then, within this community, other advocates happened to share the story of Haven. Sadly, the little girl with special needs had been abused in her orphanage in China. And as a s a result, she now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and intellectual disabilities. Moreover, her new adoptive family felt ill-equipped to care for her. But upon hearing her story, the Salems decided they wanted Haven as their daughter.
And so in 2008 they formally adopted the little girl, growing their brood to five children. “Having five children seemed like a lot to people, but still doable, I guess,” Adeye said in a blog post. And then in 2010, the big-hearted couple welcomed two more daughters into their family: Hailee and Harper, both from Ukraine, and both with special needs, too. With seven children, the Salems certainly had their hands full. But two years later, Adeye again felt a pang for yet another child abandoned thousands of miles away. Hasya’s story came to her in an email she read as she and Anthony while driving.
“I leaned over toward Anthony and said, ‘There are some things that my human heart cannot fathom,’” she recalled in a blog post. “‘Sometimes there just are no words,’” she said as she stared down at images of the emaciated young girl confined to a crib, who smiled despite her situation.
Adeye described the girl’s day-to-day life: “Helpless. Lying in her own waste day in and day out. Only fed enough to barely keep her alive. A little girl who is so thin that every bone in her body is protruding and who is so frail that it feels like her body will break by just being held. Completely abandoned!”
It took the Salems just 36 hours to decide they wanted to make Hasya part of their family, too. And so on April 10, 2012, Adeye announced the girl was officially their daughter. Moreover, the Bulgarian government worked to fast-track the paperwork, realizing just how fragile the girl’s situation was.
Furthermore, the Salems’ round-the-world trek to pick up their new daughter brought them in touch with another child in need: 8-year-old Kael. The little boy suffered from Down syndrome and was frail from malnourishment. Kael and Hasya flew home with the Salems in January 2013. However, the girl was so sick she almost didn’t make it back.
In Colorado, Hasya received the care she lacked. Human contact, love and, of course, proper nutrition helped her begin to regain her strength. She had put on 26 pounds, but was still dangerously underweight. Moreover, the condition of her spine deteriorated to the point where medical professionals had to intervene.
And so the family sought care at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. Haysa had now turned 18, but her back was curved at what was nearly a 90-degree angle and she weighed just 40 pounds. And so in stepped Dr. Jaren Riley to helm the life-changing surgery the teen so desperately needed.
“We used titanium screws and a rod, called cobalt chromium, that allows us to straighten things out and she straightened out incredibly well,” Dr. Riley told Fox 31 Denver. Indeed afterward, Hasya measured four inches taller and could actually sit up in her wheelchair – a far cry from her years spent lying in a crib.
“She just is so courageous, I can’t tell you,” Anthony told Fox 31 Denver. But he and his wife – now the proud parents of nine kids – know this is just a small step in the journey of caring for children with such varied needs.
However, both Anthony and Adeye feel nothing but grateful for the life they’ve chosen – and the opportunity to change the lives of children forgotten by the international adoption system. “It’s busy and we don’t sit down very often,” Adeye told Fox 31 Denver. “But we just absolutely love caring for our family.”